The Lady or the Lion

CamCat. Jul. 2021. 384p. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9780744303445.
Gr 9 Up–With Marghazar opening its borders, crown princess Durkhanai is determined to put aside her sheltered life and demonstrate her resourcefulness as next in line for the throne, including finding proof her grandfather, the Badshah, is innocent of a summit attack on neighboring zillas. Despite her ongoing investigation, Durkhanai can’t seem to stay away from the mysterious ambassador, Asfandyar, who openly admits he’s a spy. As more disasters pile up, Durkhanai must sift through the political warfare in the palace to keep those she cares about alive. Set in the 19th century in a Pakistan-inspired world, this retelling of Frank R. Stockton’s 1882 short story “The Lady, or the Tiger?” blossoms with political conspiracies and forbidden romance. Debut author Qureshi nails spinning new life into an old tale with a meticulous world grounded in vivid scenery and beautifully enhance with Urdu, Punjabi, and Islamic words. Durkhanai naturally progresses from sheltered, “pretty princess” to discovering her intellect and power. Her romantic relationship with Asfandyar naturally grows over the course of months yet has readers perfectly questioning what his true intentions are. While small conflicts in the story can be sleuthed out, the overall climax has a gratifying twist, revealing larger truths about whether a villain for some can be a hero for others. Durkhanai is described as having soft brown skin, while Asfandyar is biracial, the son of a Black woman, with ebony curls.
VERDICT A clever twist on a classic tale, this is one to purchase for library shelves as readers will be eager to know what happens next.

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